Viva Anna Biller: The Love Witch

Posted November 26, 2016 at 4:25am by Carl Martin, edited November 26, 2016 at 11:22am

You may have gleaned from this blog that I harbor a deep admiration for Anna Biller. Her Viva, of 2007, fell perhaps a tad shy of masterpiece status (don't get me wrong: it's a very impressive work!), but she earned full marks for adherence to analog methods while wearing the hats of writer, producer, director, editor, production designer, and star, among others. But while Kenneth Lonergan, writer/director of what I consider cinema's last masterpiece, Margaret, has gone digital with his latest work (the otherwise, I'm sure, quite excellent Manchester by the Sea), Biller has dug in her heels and retained her purely-filmic "workflow" on The Love Witch.

The Love Witch works her sex magick
Most won't see her film that way. We live in a compromised world. A DCP was made. That is what showed when the movie opened in San Francisco. But the Roxie just hosted the Bay Area 35mm premiere--so I have finally watched (and projected) it!--and will show the film at least through Sunday.

My first encounter with this work is less than 12 hours old, so my thoughts might evolve. It may be a lesser work than Viva, perhaps only because it can't deliver the wonderful shock of a new voice, but it's still quite worthy of your attention. Intact is the tension of an arguably feminist perspective expressed in the tropes and visual language of a bygone time in conversation with our own. The setting is present-time (by the most-recent-car-model test), the ecstatic costumes and decors favor the past, but the saturated colors, the film-ness, of this ambiguously supernatural burlesque of masculine and feminine roles with nods toward psychedelia and crime-thriller, are timeless. The curiously set-bound feeling of the earlier film is opened up here by location shooting in California's northern counties. Biller knows exactly what she wants from her actors and sometimes gets it. I do miss her acting presence, but if this brief run doesn't flop, there is a good chance it will be extended and augmented with a screening of Viva and a personal appearance by Biller.

Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Dennis Hauck, László Nemes, believe me, I appreciate your efforts to keep film alive. Keep it up, and look to Anna Biller as one who is doing it right.